The three contenders for lieutenant governor in the Democratic primary got together Tuesday night to talk about the job and how they might make it a little more useful. Or a little less useless, perhaps.
The relatively powerless second-in-command is, as far as I know, an oddity of American politics. (Do other countries’ governments sport institutionalized appendices?) A heartbeat away from executive power, but trapped in an unglamorous treadmill of boredom famously dubbed “a bucket of warm piss” by one of its occupants.
You could say the lieutenant governorship is what you make it, but it’d be more accurate to say that it’s what other people let you make it. Peter Shumlin gave Phil Scott a seat in his Cabinet, a generous gesture that Scott has repaid by strenuously denouncing anyone who calls attention to it.
Still, at the very least, the office can be used as a bully pulpit. You can advocate for your causes. You can engage in backroom politics in the Senate, where you do wield a bit of authority. Or you can set off on a gimmicky, photo-op-friendly Jobs Tour.
Oh wait, that one’s been taken.
The three candidates’ images of the job, to a large extent, mirror their separate capabilities and interests.
David Zuckerman talked of “be[ing] an organizer… on critical issues” with “one foot inside the building and one foot outside.” Sounds painful.
But seriously, that’s what he is, and that’s what he’d bring to the job. He’d be an outsider with an inside seat.
Shap Smith, as befits his power broker performance as House Speaker, talks of the “soft influence” wielded by the lieutenant governor in the Statehouse, of relationships and coalition building.
Gee, it’d be awfully easy to draw a parallel between Bernie/Hillary and Zuckerman/Smith, wouldn’t it? The advocate and the dealmaker. The guy who wants to shake things up, and the guy who wants to help things shake out.
Meanwhile, Kesha Ram’s vision stems from her youth and seemingly boundless energy, not to mention her relative lack of experience. She’s got a truly transformational view of a job that would add a whole lot of dazzle to the bucket.
She sees herself as a “people’s advocate” with a “special hotline” for Vermonters to call. On the other hand, she sees the Lite-Guv as potentially a “visionary” who can look beyond putting out fires and short-term concerns. So, details plus broad overview?
She also sees the Lite-Guv as a “connector-in-chief” who brings people together to solve problems. Which, well, maybe, but without the assent of the executive, it’s hard to see the connector having much of an effect.
All in all, it seems an overly ambitious grab bag. But maybe that’s just me.
I still think that Zuckerman and Smith are the two real contenders. And they offer Vermonters a real choice. Do you want a rabble-rouser who Speaks Truth To Power? Do you want a skilled politico with moderately liberal views who can effectively work behind the scenes to get stuff done?
Zuckerman would make liberals feel better with bold, clear pronouncements. Smith would adopt a lower profile to avoid alienating colleagues toward the goal of building support for Democratic policies. Myself, I think Smith would get more done than Zuckerman. But then, I voted for Hillary.
Dr. Feelgood or The Fixer? You make the call.